Successful Scheduling in Your Medical Practice

November 7, 2013
Sue Jacques

Work responsibilities, family time, and community activities can make it challenging to maintain a realistic schedule. Here are six steps to success.

Healthcare providers are duty-bound to honor their commitments, which means being on time and completing tasks efficiently. With the frenetic pace and unpredictable nature of medicine, however, that's often easier said than done.

Work responsibilities, errands, family time, and community activities can make it painfully challenging to establish and maintain a realistic schedule. But we still need to take responsibility for our commitments, as individuals and as organizations. Doing so allows us to enhance our level of integrity and gain the reputation of being reliable, while simultaneously earning the respect of the people we work with and serve. This element of professionalism is dependent on one critical component: accountability.

Accountability is a currency you can take to the bank. It's like a ligament that connects the backbone of a medical professional's behavior to the heart of the patient and satisfaction of colleagues. Quality will always matter, that's a given. But coupling quality with credibility provides a double professional whammy that keeps people coming back for more.

Medical personnel are often delayed, and usually with good reason. But in the world of healthcare - where teamwork is critical - one person's tardiness can have a negative impact on days, weeks, or even months of scheduling.

You can remedy that with these six scheduling suggestions, which will help ensure that you always have adequate time to get ready, get going, and get there.

1. Add a few minutes of buffer time on either end of your appointments. Allow for travel (even within the hospital), parking, and unexpected delays. Depending on the nature of the appointment, you may need to add more or less time.

2. Learn how to decline an invitation. Saying yes when you want to say no often results in chronic cancellation or rescheduling of appointments, which can frustrate and annoy other people. Whether you're being invited to sit on a committee, become a board member, squeeze in one more patient, or speak at a conference, be absolutely positive you can spare the time. Replies like, "I need a day or two to think about this," or "Perhaps another time," can help you make smart decisions and avoid over-committing.

3. If you don't have time for a conversation or you need to bring a discussion to an end, say so. Try something like, "I really value this discussion, and we're going to need more time than I can afford right now. Let's compare schedules to find a mutually convenient time to get together when we can really focus on this issue."

4. Begin and end meetings on time, and have an agenda. If people are delayed, consider starting the meeting without them (unless a "come-and-go" protocol has been established and agreed to by all). Having an agenda helps you to stay on time, even if you begin late. It empowers you to say, for example, "We'll need to adjust our agenda to make sure we end this meeting on time. Let's prioritize and get started." If you're the one who is going to be late, do your best to notify others. When you arrive, simply enter the room, take your seat, and become involved.

5. Clearly state yourexpectations. Any time you agree to something, let everyone involved know what they can expect from you, and what you expect from them. This exchange should include specifics such as dates, deliverables, and details. Document your mutual expectations so that you have written confirmation of agreed-upon roles and responsibilities.

6. Show respect for other people's time. Ask people if they have a moment to chat before you launch into a conversation. Keep in mind that the word "but" sets up an argument and the word "and" sets up an agreement. For example, saying, "I know you're busy, but, I have to speak with you right now," sets up resistance. Instead, say, "I know you're busy, and, may I have three minutes of your time?" Be specific.

All of us are more prone to invest our hard-earned money and valuable time in organizations and people who can be trusted to do what they say they'll do, when they say they'll do it. Be one of those people. Success involves more planning than simply putting appointments in your calendar. Accountability is a respected guiding principle that can easily be developed by anyone who follows these two simple steps - No. 1: Say you're going to do something. No. 2: Do it.

Sue Jacques is The Civility CEO®, a veteran forensic medical investigator turned corporate civility consultant, professional speaker, and author. Sue helps individuals and businesses gain confidence, earn respect, create courteous corporate cultures, and prosper through professionalism.www.TheCivilityCEO.com